Studio: Malefic Films
Director: Michael Melski
Writer: Michael Melski
Producer: Michael Melski, Craig Cameron
Stars: Suzanne Clement, Allan Hawco, Shelley Thompson, Geza Kovacs, Lesley Smith, Lee J. Campbell, Martha Irving, Rena Kossatz
An expectant couple uncovers a supernatural mystery at a secluded inn where sinister child murders once took place.
“Butterbox Babies” sounds like a children’s cartoon that might slide smoothly into a Saturday morning block between “PJ Masks” and “Bubble Guppies.” Would that it were. Tragically, the true story behind the term involves murder of the most sinister sort.
Between 1928 and 1945, unordained minister William Peach Young and his wife Lila Gladys Young ran Nova Scotia’s Ideal Maternity Home, a refuge for unwed mothers shamed into giving up their newborns. Whatever altruistic intentions might have motivated the house’s initial creation were short lived. Ideal Maternity Home became a black market for selling babies to high bidders.
When stock ran low, the Youngs stole children from their mothers and simply said the infants died. Worse, babies that couldn’t be sold due to defects or other undesirable characteristics were starved to death, then buried unceremoniously in wooden grocery crates known as “butter boxes.” The full extent of alleged atrocities remains unknown, though the Youngs continued operating out of a hotel even after the government shuttered Ideal Maternity Home’s doors.
Michael Melski’s moody chiller “The Child Remains” isn’t specifically about Ideal Maternity Home or the Youngs. Rather, the sad true tale melts into a fictional backdrop behind a pregnant couple’s getaway at a B&B with a haunted history.
Rae’s head hasn’t been in the right place since her career as a crime reporter took an unexpected mental toll. Her musician husband Liam’s plan to ease Rae’s PTSD involves celebrating her 42nd birthday with a weekend at the remote Mersey Inn.
Almost immediately upon arrival, visions of a ghostly woman and a bloody door hit Rae hard. As required by disbelieving horror movie husband guidelines, Liam dismisses these disturbances as delusions. After innkeeper Monica, the only other person in the house, lets slip several stories about the residence’s past as a maternity home for shunned mothers, ghosts start grabbing hold of both Rae and Liam in increasingly alarming manners.
Rae’s journalistic instincts drive her to get to the bottom of her nagging nightmares and devilish daydream flashes. While Liam encounters an odd presence with a strange attraction to his music, Rae discovers that the house’s secrets are more sinister than she suspected. A grim groundskeeper, a furtive librarian, and a blank journal initially offer little help. But as pieces gradually come together, Rae unravels a mystery connecting the past and the present through paranoia and paranormal activity.
I prefer to be cleverer than resorting to “is” or “if you” statements when describing or critiquing a movie. But if part of the purpose here is to align “The Child Remains” with how it fits within your personal preferences, then the shoes fit. Plus, the film flies a straight enough arrow that no review needs to get too crafty.
If you find favor with slow burn supernatural thrillers, where atmosphere is emphasized over action, and have tastes tolerant of intimate, smaller budget productions, “The Child Remains” certainly creeps up those alleys. The movie is a largely Spartan affair, though it does well to not become constricted by limited scope, opening up exteriors on chilly woods and keeping its camera active even when onscreen energy stays inert.
“The Child Remains” spins an engaging story, though exciting doesn’t quite fit as an adjective. Built chiefly on quietly smoldering intrigue, the faint pulse keeps a steady beat because of good, measured acting. Performances aren’t remarkable, mainly because the script only calls for mild behaviors and simple dialogue. But the actors aren’t boring, putting professional effort into reserved personalities and remaining committed to their characters throughout every change.
If the cast wasn’t this capable, the movie’s relative calmness would feel the drag of its running time more. Ten minutes short of two hours is an overlong time for three people to stalk around a haunted house. A heavier hand on the ‘Delete’ key in the editing room could work wonders by shaving off 25% of the redundancy and momentum would move much better.
Almost as though sensing itself slowing with repeated beats, “The Child Remains” abruptly changes gears from gothic ghost story to full-on supernatural slasher for its finale. I can’t quite tell if I consider the somewhat sudden shift to be brazenly bizarre or just tonally misconceived. Benefit of the doubt errs toward the former, though some viewers may take the last act for being B-movie tacky when everything up to that point grounds itself closer to suggestive suspense.
The climax clumps together monologuing Bond villain revelations, a creature who crawled in from “Basket Case,” and a few other ill-fitting fixtures to connect every thread to the end credits. Even though the boldness doesn’t completely gel with what came before, “The Child Remains” emerges as an entertaining curiosity whose legitimate “true events” connection almost excuses its late inning nuttiness.
Review Score: 60